Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

Role models and the STEM gender gap

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According to the abstract of this new NBER working paper, women are 37 per cent less likely than men to get their BA in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). (I assume this is American data.)  Only 25 per cent of jobs in STEM are held by women, but for now we’re focusing on that first statistic, which partly causes the second.

In any case, the paper looks at the impact of professor gender on female students’ performance, future course choices and chance of graduating with a STEM degree. They find that the gender gap in marks and majors disappears amongst female students with strong math skills when their intro courses are taught by other women.

Unless better STEM students are more likely to choose female professors – and I doubt it – that suggests that we could reduce the gender gap by making sure women teach more intro courses. (Of course, that would be tough on the few female profs in STEM departments, since almost no one prefers to teach the big intro courses.) 

I’m a little skeptical of the “strong math skills” restriction – the authors are highlighting their strongest result, and presumably they couldn’t account for all of the gender gap amongst average students. We shouldn’t be discounting those women, any more  than we do men with average math skills, since as we’ve discussed at length before, the only discernible gender differences in math ability are at the upper tail of the distribution. Not to mention the fact that many STEM majors and careers (medicine, anyone?) don’t require that much math. 

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

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Written by Allison

16 May 2009 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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